Q&A: Anne Fulenwider Says Heart Health and Telehealth Are In

Q&A: Anne Fulenwider Says Heart Health and Telehealth Are In

February is American Heart Month.

In 2016, Anne Fulenwider’s mother died of a heart attack.

Fulenwider knew her mother’s side of the family had a history of heart problems — her uncle had a fatal heart attack at age 40 — but her mother’s heart health had been monitored since she was in her 20s. Her mother took medication for high blood pressure and she seemed to be in great health. “So her sudden heart attack was a huge shock,” Fulenwider said.

The loss of her mother led Fulenwider to look more closely at her own heart health and women’s health overall. She recently co-founded Alloy Women’s Health, a telehealth company focusing on personalized menopause treatments.

“Since my mother’s death I’ve learned that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, that women’s heart attacks do not present the same as men’s, and through Alloy, I’ve learned of the great preventive benefits that menopausal hormone therapy and specifically estrogen have on the heart.”

Read: Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Women >>

We caught up with the former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine and women’s health advocate to talk more about heart health, her new company and health advice from Brooke Shields.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

HealthyWomen: How did your mother’s heart attack affect the way you view your own heart health?

Anne Fulenwider: Grief and shock aside, this moment above all taught me that no one is guaranteed another day on this planet. First thing I did was go straight to a cardiologist to get a full examination of my heart. I’d also been working extremely hard, with lots of stress and business travel away from my family, and it really got me thinking about how I wanted to live the rest of my life. And that’s when I decided I wanted to make a change and really do something that impacts women’s health and their lives.

Not long after, I met my co-founder, Monica Molenaar, who was on a similar mission and together we created Alloy Women’s Health.

HealthyWomen: How do you take care of your heart health today?

Anne Fulenwider: I try to eat healthy, exercise regularly, meditate for 10 minutes a day and get enough sleep. I’m not perfect at any of those, but I am much more vigilant about them now. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also cut way back on alcohol and caffeine. And I get my heart checked annually by a cardiologist.

Read: What Is a Heart-Healthy Diet? >>

HealthyWomen: You said your mother’s death inspired you to want to make an impact on women’s health. Is your company Alloy a product of this inspiration?

Anne Fulenwider: Yes! At the time that my mother died, my daughter was struggling with some health issues as well. She is fine now, but experiencing the healthcare system from both ends of the age spectrum really gave me pause about how we care for women’s bodies in this country. I had already been giving this a lot of thought as I navigated the fashion and beauty worlds as editor of Marie Claire, and my mother’s passing made me realize I really wanted to make a difference and help women from the inside out.

HealthyWomen: Tell us one of the most important things you’ve learned about treatment options for menopause.

Anne Fulenwider: The No. 1 thing I have learned is that fear and misinformation cost lives. There was a giant study done 20 years ago that disseminated in a very sensational way the idea that estrogen causes breast cancer and scared millions of women away from a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of menopause.

That treatment — menopausal hormone therapy — is now recommended as first-line treatment for menopause symptoms and the prevention of osteoporosis.

The results of the study and the sensational press coverage were disastrous for women’s health. Millions of women have not only suffered needlessly from the debilitating symptoms of menopause since then but also have missed out on the possible preventive effects of hormone therapy against colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease — in other words, the plagues of old age.

HealthyWomen: If not too personal, what symptoms of perimenopause were you experiencing that made you look into treatment options and what treatments have worked for you?

Anne Fulenwider: We are all very open about our symptoms! Normalizing the conversation is a big part of our mission and letting women know they’re not alone is actually a huge part of healing.

I was experiencing pronounced mood swings, rage and anxiety. I was also waking up every morning at 4 a.m. unable to fall back asleep. I wasn’t sleeping and I was gaining weight. I didn’t even know what perimenopause was when I started the company, and I definitely didn’t know that any of those symptoms were related to the hormonal ups and downs that can start anytime in the 10 years leading up to your last period.

I went on a low-dose birth control pill, and I was amazed to find that my mood improved, I slept better, I had more energy and felt better overall. I was then able to make lifestyle changes that helped my health: I minimized my intake of alcohol and caffeine, and started exercising more regularly and eating more mindfully.

Read: Why Hormonal Birth Control Is So Important to Women’s Healthcare >>

HealthyWomen: You are active on social media about the need for more menopause education and you’re moderating panels on women’s health. What are you hearing in these conversations that continue to give you inspiration regarding advancements in women’s health?

Anne Fulenwider: The thing I find most inspiring is hearing from women whose lives have been changed by getting the right menopause treatment. Even though I believed this was such a necessary conversation that I left my job to start it, I really had no idea just how immense the scale of the suffering is out there.

I’ve been so encouraged to see that women are starting these conversations themselves now, asking their doctors about hormones and I am thrilled the scope of the conversation has changed so dramatically in the last five years. I do believe things are changing.

But the system is still broken, incentives are misaligned and doctors are overworked and have no time to initiate cultural change. It will really be up to women ourselves to demand the care that we need. And I’ve been very inspired to see the power of that demand beginning to be realized.

HealthyWomen: You’ve interviewed many amazing women over your career. Who gave you the most surprising or best health advice?

Anne Fulenwider: I wish I had asked more questions about health! I will say that when Brooke Shields started discussing her postpartum depression on the national stage, it was life-changing for me, and I think in recent years the number of people with large platforms who have started addressing personal health issues is tremendously helpful.

It helps women know they’re not alone, and it starts to remove the layers of shame and stigma around these sensitive but crucial topics. Talking about these things openly truly saves lives.